COVID-19 policy changes and events one year ago this week

Although the first case of COVID-19 in the U.S. was confirmed on Jan. 21, 2020, it wasn’t until March when the novel coronavirus upended life for most Americans. Throughout the year, states issued stay-at-home orders, closed schools, restricted travel, issued mask mandates, and changed election dates.

Here are the policy changes that happened June 15-19, 2020. This list is not comprehensive. To see a list of all policy changes in each category, click the links below.

Monday, June 15, 2020

  • Stay-at-home orders:
    • New Hampshire’s statewide stay-at-home order expired on June 15. Gov. Chris Sununu (R) issued Emergency Order #17 on March 26. The order directed individuals in the state to stay at home unless performing essential activities and placed restrictions on non-essential businesses.
  • Travel restrictions:
    • Arkansas Secretary of Health Nathaniel Smith allowed the 14-day travel quarantine requirement for out-of-state travelers coming from coronavirus hot spot areas—including New York and New Jersey—to expire. 
  • Election changes:
    • United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama Judge Abdul Kallon issued a preliminary injunction barring election officials from enforcing witness and photo ID requirements for select voters casting absentee ballots in the July 14 runoff elections.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

  • Travel restrictions:
    • The Hawaii State Department of Health announced that inter-island travelers would no longer need to follow a 14-day quarantine. However, all passengers and crew would need to fill out a travel and health form before boarding.
  • Election changes:
    • As the result of a lawsuit settlement, the absentee ballot postmark deadline in Minnesota was extended to August 11 in the August 11 primary election, while the receipt deadline for absentee ballots was extended to August 13. The witness requirement for absentee ballots was suspended.
    • Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker (D) signed SB 863 and HB2238 into law, requiring local election officials to deliver vote-by-mail applications for the Nov. 3 general election to all voters who cast ballots in the 2018 general election, the 2019 consolidated election, or the 2020 primary election.
  • Federal government responses:
    • Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf announced that the U.S. would keep restrictions limiting non-essential travel to or from Mexico and Canada in place through July 21.
    • In a joint press release, the Department of Homeland Security and the Executive Office for Immigration Review announced that Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP) hearings and in-person document services would likely resume on July 20. Under MPP, individuals seeking asylum were told to wait in Mexico until their immigration court appointment.  

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

  • Travel restrictions:
    • The Kansas Department of Health and Environment updated its list of states with widespread community transmission to include Alabama, Arizona, and Arkansas. Kansas residents who had traveled to those states were required to self-quarantine for 14 days.
  • Election changes:
    • The Wisconsin Election Commission voted unanimously to send absentee/mail-in ballot applications automatically to most registered voters in the Nov. 3 general election.
  • Federal government responses:
    • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration released a report for nonessential businesses planning on reopening, titled “Guidance on Returning to Work.” The guidance includes recommendations for a three-phased reopening strategy.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

  • Election changes:
    • California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) signed AB860 into law, requiring county election officials to mail absentee/mail-in ballots to all registered voters in the Nov. 3 general election. On May 8, 2020, Newsom had issued an executive order to the same effect.
  • Mask requirements:
    • Newsom signed an executive order requiring individuals to wear face coverings when outside the home. California was the ninth state to enact a statewide mask requirement. 

Friday, June 19, 2020

  • Stay-at-home orders:
    • Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) approved Multnomah County’s application to reopen, effectively lifting the state’s stay-at-home order. Multnomah, which includes Portland, was the last county subject to Brown’s original stay-at-home order, Executive Order No. 20-12.  
  • Election changes:
    • Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo (D) signed H7901 into law, reducing petition signature requirements for both primary and general election congressional candidates in 2020 by half.
    • The Maryland State Board of Elections and the Green Party of Maryland reached a settlement in Maryland Green Party v. Hogan. Under the terms of the settlement, the petition signature requirement for obtaining party status for the Green and Libertarian parties was reduced from 10,000 to 5,000 signatures.
  • Federal government responses:
    • The Internal Revenue Service released guidance for individuals participating in retirement plans that describes how they can take advantage of provisions in the CARES Act that related to retirement plans.
    • The Department of Defense (DoD) lifted travel restrictions on additional installations in 46 states and eight host nations, allowing military and civilian personnel to travel to those locations.

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Illinois, Kentucky end face-covering requirements

Two states ended statewide public mask requirements for vaccinated and unvaccinated people between June 5-11.

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker (D) moved the state to Phase 5 of reopening June 11, ending the statewide mask mandate. The state still requires masks in schools, on public transit, in hospitals, and at congregate facilities like prisons and homeless shelters. Masks are also recommended in indoor public spaces for individuals who are not fully vaccinated. 

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear (D) ended the statewide mask requirement, remaining social distancing requirements, and all capacity restrictions June 11. Vaccinated and unvaccinated people still have to wear masks on public transit, at schools, and in healthcare settings.

In total, 39 states issued statewide public mask requirements during the pandemic. At the time of writing, 13 states had statewide mask orders, including 11 of the 23 states with Democratic governors and two of the 27 states with Republican governors. Of those 13 states, at least 11 exempted fully vaccinated people.

Of the 26 states that have fully ended statewide public mask requirements, 14 have Republican governors and 12 have Democratic governors. Twenty-three states ended mask requirements through executive order, two (Kansas and Utah) ended mask requirements through legislative action, and one (Wisconsin) ended its mandate through court order.

Texas Supreme Court justice resigns, creates midterm vacancy

Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman retired from her seat on the state’s highest court effective Friday, June 11. Her resignation letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) did not provide a reason for her departure. Guzman’s replacement will be Gov. Abbott’s fifth nominee to the nine-member supreme court.

Under Texas law, in the event of a midterm vacancy, the governor appoints a replacement. The Texas State Senate must then confirm the nominee. Appointees serve until the next general election, in which he or she must participate in a partisan election to remain on the bench for the remainder of the unexpired term.

Guzman joined the Texas Supreme Court in 2009. She was appointed by former Gov. Rick Perry (R).

Guzman was the first Hispanic woman appointed to the state’s highest court. Upon winning election to the seat in 2010, she became the first Hispanic woman elected to statewide office in Texas. Prior to her appointment to the supreme court, Guzman served as a district judge for Texas’ 309th District Court and as an appellate judge for Texas’ Fourteenth Court of Appeals. She practiced law as a litigator in Houston before becoming a judge. Guzman earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Houston, a J.D. from the South Texas College of Law, and an LL.M. from Duke University School of Law.

Following Guzman’s retirement, the Texas Supreme Court includes the following members:

• Nathan Hecht, appointed by Perry in 2013

• Jimmy Blacklock, appointed by Abbott in 2018

• Debra Lehrmann, appointed by Perry in 2010

• John Devine, elected in 2012

• Rebeca Huddle, appointed by Abbott in 2020

• Jane Bland, appointed by Abbott in 2019

• Jeffrey S. Boyd, appointed by Perry in 2012

• Brett Busby, appointed by Abbott in 2019

All current members of the court identify as Republicans.

In 2021, there have been 13 supreme court vacancies in 11 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies have been caused by retirements.

Additional reading:

Special election primary to be held in Wisconsin Assembly district

A special election primary is being held on June 15 for District 37 of the Wisconsin State Assembly. Cathy Houchin, Steve Kauffeld, Nick Krueger, Jennifer Meinhardt, William Penterman, Nathan Pollnow, Jenifer Quimby, and Spencer Zimmerman are running in the Republican primary. Pete Adams is unopposed in the Democratic primary. Stephen Ratzlaff Jr. is running as an independent candidate. The general election will take place on July 13, and the winner of the special election will serve until January 2023.

The seat became vacant on April 23 after John Jagler (R) was sworn into the Wisconsin State Senate. He won a special election for state Senate District 13 on April 6. Jagler had represented District 37 since 2013. He won re-election in 2020 with 56% of the vote.

Heading into the special election, Republicans have a 60-38 majority in the Wisconsin Assembly with one vacancy. Wisconsin has a divided government, and no political party holds a state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.

As of June, 39 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2021 in 17 states. Between 2011 and 2020, an average of 75 special elections took place each year. Wisconsin held 19 state legislative special elections from 2011 to 2020.

Additional reading:

New Yorker voters will decide five constitutional amendments related to voting, redistricting, and the environment in November 

The New York State Legislature voted to send five constitutional amendments to voters for the general election on November 2, 2021, and one bond issue to voters for the general election on November 8, 2022. The state Legislature adjourned on June 10, 2021.

On January 20, 2021, the first constitutional amendment was referred to the ballot. The amendment is designed to make several changes to the redistricting process in New York. Legislative votes were largely along party lines, with Democrats supported the amendment and Republicans opposing it. The ballot measure would repeal the higher vote threshold for adopting redistricting plans when the legislature is controlled by a single party. In other words, a simple majority vote would be required for the legislature to adopt plans regardless of party control. Currently, both chambers of the New York State Legislature are controlled by Democrats.

The second constitutional amendment was referred on February 8. The ballot measure would add a right to clean water, clean air, and a healthful environment to the New York Constitution’s Bill of Rights. Senate Democrats supported the proposal, and Senate Republicans were divided 6 to 14. Assembly Democrats, along with the chamber’s one Independence Party member, supported the proposal, while Assembly Republicans split 17-25.

On May 11, 2021, the legislature referred two constitutional amendments related to voting policy. One amendment would authorize the state legislature to pass a statute for no-excuse absentee voting. No-excuse absentee voting would allow any registered voter to request and vote with an absentee ballot. As of 2021, the New York Constitution requires voters to be absent from their home county, ill, or physically disabled to vote with an absentee ballot. Democrats in both chambers supported the amendment, while Republicans were divided 7-13 in the Senate and 13-30 in the Assembly. 

The second May 11 amendment would repeal the requirement that persons must register to vote at least ten days before an election, thus authorizing the state legislature to pass a statute for same-day voter registration. Same-day voter registration enables voters to register and vote at the same time. In the Senate, Democrats supported and Republicans opposed the amendment. In the Assembly, Democrats and one Republican supported it, while the remaining 42 Republicans opposed the proposal.

On the final day of the legislative session, the legislature approved a fifth constitutional amendment in a unanimous vote in both chambers. The amendment would increase the New York City Civil Court’s jurisdiction over lawsuits involving claims for damages from $25,000 to $50,000.

The 2022 bond measure is a proposal that was originally set for the November 2020 ballot but was withdrawn due to financial concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. Officially called the Restore Mother Nature Bond Act, the ballot measure would issue $3.00 billion in general obligation bonds for projects related to the environment, natural resources, water infrastructure, and climate change mitigation. It was included as a provision of the state’s budget. Most Democrats (38 of 43 in the Assembly and 88 of 107 in the Senate) voted to approve the budget. All Assembly and Senate Republicans voted against the bill.

In New York, constitutional amendments require a simple majority vote in each legislative chamber in two successive legislative sessions with an election for state legislators in between. All of the constitutional amendments approved in 2021 were previously approved in 2019.

Between 1995 and 2020, the legislature referred an average of 1.7 constitutional amendments to the odd-yer ballot. The highest number during this period was 6 in 2013. Voters approved 76% of the referred amendments. 

Additional reading:

Mike Nearman expelled from OR state House

The Oregon House of Representatives voted to expel state Rep. Mike Nearman (R) on June 10. Nearman’s colleagues expelled him due to video footage that showed him helping protesters, some of whom were armed, enter the state Capitol building on December 21, 2020. This led to a struggle between the protesters and police officers, causing injuries and property damage.

The resolution to expel Nearman passed 59-1, with only Nearman voting against. According to Oregon Public Broadcasting, Nearman is the first person to have ever been expelled from the Oregon Legislature.

Nearman was first elected to represent District 23 in the Oregon state House in 2014, defeating incumbent Jim Thompson (R) in the Republican primary. Before he entered politics, Nearman worked in software engineering and tech support.

There have been 52 state legislative vacancies in 30 states so far in 2021. Thirty-seven of those vacancies have been filled. Two other state legislators have been expelled this year; Luke Simons (R-ND), and Rick Roeber (R-MO).

Additional reading:

Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman resigns

Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman resigned on June 11, 2021. Guzman’s replacement will be Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) fifth nominee to the nine-member supreme court. At the time of Guzman’s resignation, all nine judges on the court identified with the Republican party. 

Guzman was appointed to the court by Gov. Rick Perry (R) in 2009. She was elected to a full term in 2010, becoming the first Latina woman elected to statewide office in Texas. Guzman was re-elected in 2016, defeating Democrat Savannah Robinson, 56% to 39%.

Before she was appointed to the state supreme court, Guzman served as a district judge for Texas’ 309th District Court and as an appellate judge for Texas’ Fourteenth Court of Appeals.

The Texas Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort for civil matters and has nine judgeships. Under Texas law, in the event of a midterm vacancy, the governor appoints a replacement. The appointment is subject to confirmation from the Texas State Senate. Once confirmed, the judge will serve until the next general election, at which point they must run in a partisan election to remain on the bench for the rest of the unexpired term.

In 2021, there have been 13 supreme court vacancies in 11 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected.

Additional reading:

Massachusetts voters will decide measure in 2022 creating additional income tax on income above $1 million

On June 9, the Massachusetts General Court convened a joint session and passed Senate Bill 5 (SB 5) by a vote of 159-41, which sent an increase in the state’s income tax for top earners to state voters in 2022.

SB 5 is a constitutional amendment that would create an additional 4% income tax on income above $1 million, increasing the rate from 5% to 9%. The additional tax revenue would be dedicated “to provide the resources for quality public education and affordable public colleges and universities, and for the repair and maintenance of roads, bridges, and public transportation.” Currently, Massachusetts is one of nine states with a flat income tax rate (5%).

The amendment would also authorize the $1 million threshold to be adjusted according to any changes in the cost of living in Massachusetts using the same method used to establish federal income tax brackets. The tax would take effect on January 1, 2023.

The amendment is identical to a 2018 citizen initiative that initially qualified for the ballot but was later removed by the Massachusetts Supreme Court following a lawsuit where they ruled that the measure violated a provision of the state constitution that requires an initiative “contains only subjects … which are related or which are mutually dependent.” The ballot initiative, according to the ruling, encompassed two subjects—a tax and a dedication of revenue, which were not mutually dependent in their judgment. The state’s single-subject rule does not apply to legislative referrals.

Representative James O’Day (D) introduced House Bill 86 (HB 86) during the 2019 legislative session. In Massachusetts, both chambers of the state General Court meet as a single convention to vote on amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution. An amendment needs to receive the vote of 101 of 200 state legislators during two successive sessions to appear on the ballot. During the 2019 legislative session, the bill was approved by a vote of 147 to 48 with five Democratic members absent or not voting. During the joint session convened Wednesday, the bill was approved by a vote of 159-41. All but one Republican, Sen. Patrick O’Connor, voted against the amendment, and all but nine Democrats favored it. The sole Independent member, Rep. Susannah Whipps, voted in favor of it.

On the eve of the vote, Democratic Representatives James O’Day and Jason Lewis wrote, “The reason why the Fair Share Amendment is so popular is that most people recognize that our wealthiest residents can afford to pay a bit more in taxes to help fund investments that expand opportunity and make our Commonwealth more just and equitable for all. … In fact, investments in a stronger education system and improved transportation infrastructure will strengthen our economy, expand opportunity, and make Massachusetts an even more desirable place to live, work, raise a family, and build a business.”

Raise Up Massachusetts, the non-profit coalition that sponsored the 2018 amendment, tweeted after the vote Wednesday, “We applaud the state legislature for their vote and thank our many grassroots partners for making this possible.”

In opposition to the amendment, Christopher Carlozzi, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) in Massachusetts, said, “A millionaire’s tax could also send wealthy people fleeing the state and leave Massachusetts with less revenue, which would place a financial burden upon the remaining residents who would see taxes go up, small business owners included.” 

The amendment is the first ballot measure to be referred to statewide ballots in Massachusetts. Between 1962 and 2020, Massachusetts voters decided on 11 ballot measures related to state income tax. Nine measures were defeated, and two were approved.

Additional reading:

Two state legislative incumbents defeated in New Jersey primary elections, a decade-high

Two members of New Jersey’s General Assembly lost to primary challengers on June 8, 2021, a decade-high number for the legislature.

Serena DiMaso (R) in the multi-member District 13 lost to Gerard Scharfenberger (R) and Victoria Flynn (R). Nicholas Chiaravalloti (D) from Assembly District 31 unofficially withdrew from the race before the primary, but his name remained on the ballot.

The Democratic primary in Assembly District 18 and the Republican primary in District 26, both featuring two incumbents each, remain too close to call as of June 11.

All four state Senate incumbents facing primary challenges won.

Primary defeats for incumbents in the New Jersey State Legislature are uncommon. Before 2021, only one state legislative incumbent had lost in a primary election: Assm. Joe Howarth (R) in 2019. No incumbent state Senator has lost in a primary since 2003.

In addition to the two primary defeats, five Democrats and three Republicans chose not to seek re-election in the General Assembly. In the state Senate, one Democrat and three Republicans opted against re-election.

Use the following links to learn more about New Jersey’s 2021 state legislative elections:

Decade-high number of incumbents defeated in Virginia House of Delegates primaries

Challengers defeated a decade-high four incumbents in the June 8 primaries for Virginia’s House of Delegates. Those incumbents are:

• Charles Poindexter (R) – House District 9

• Mark Levine (D) – House District 45

• Lee Carter (D) – House District 50

• Steve Heretick (D) – House District 79

These House incumbents were the first to lose in primaries since 2015, when two incumbents lost to challengers. Two incumbents also lost in the 2013 primaries, and none lost in 2011.

Two of the four incumbents—Levine and Carter—also appeared on statewide primary ballots. Levine was a candidate for lieutenant governor and Carter was a candidate for governor. Both lost in their respective statewide primaries, as well.

The Democratic primary in House District 86 between incumbent Del. Ibraheem Samirah and Irene Shin is too close to call as of June 11.

In addition to the four incumbents defeated in primary elections, six incumbents—one Democrat and five Republicans—did not seek re-election, meaning at least ten newcomers will be elected to the 100-person chamber in November.

Democrats currently hold a 55-45 majority in the chamber following its flip in 2019. Fifty Democratic incumbents and 39 Republicans are slated to appear on general election ballots in November.

To learn more about Virginia’s 2021 House of Delegates elections, click here: Virginia House of Delegates elections, 2021